(Bloomberg) -- President Mokgweetsi Masisi of Botswana, which has the world’s largest elephant population, said a global pact to regulate wildlife trade has become “senseless” and he will press ahead with a plan to lead southern African nations out of it.

Botswana was angered when proposals to ease some trade restrictions were thrown out at a meeting of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora, or CITES, in Geneva last month. With an elephant population of about 130,000, the government argues it has too many, and they are killing villagers and destroying their crops. International trade in ivory and rhino horns is banned by CITES.

Southern African nations asked CITES to allow them to sell their ivory stockpiles, continue exporting elephants to zoos in China and the U.S. and, in the case of Namibia, ease curbs on rhino horn trade. All of those proposals were rejected.

“When you are told, and we do get told, you can’t do anything about your excess -- it’s not helpful, it’s not a solution,” Masisi said in an interview with Bloomberg TV at the World Economic Forum on Africa in Cape Town on Thursday. “It’s actually senseless,” he said, describing the Botswana people as “the keepers of the elephants.”

Members of the 16-nation Southern African Development Community are home to the bulk of the world’s elephants, rhinos, lions and other species of African game. The bloc stretches from South Africa to the Democratic Republic of Congo.

The group has since threatened to withdraw from CITES, saying western non-governmental organizations had become too powerful and were dictating policy.

“Unfortunately it’s been hijacked, it’s meant to provide for a managed, orderly, legal means by which you can trade, actually manage wildlife species,” Masisi said. Southern African nations “will get together and discuss what our next steps will be,” he said.

While Botswana has set aside 42% of its territory for preservation, animals now occupy close to 60%, according to the president.

“It’s an enviable record,” he said. “Like in any good factory in the west, that make sweets, chocolates or cars, stock piles up, animals breed.”

(Updates with president’s comment in last two paragraphs.)

--With assistance from Mbongeni Mguni.

To contact the reporters on this story: Antony Sguazzin in Johannesburg at asguazzin@bloomberg.net;Manus Cranny in London at mcranny@bloomberg.net;Mike Cohen in Cape Town at mcohen21@bloomberg.net

To contact the editors responsible for this story: John McCorry at jmccorry@bloomberg.net, Pauline Bax, Gordon Bell

©2019 Bloomberg L.P.

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